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Jabberwocky and Other Nonsense

Lewis Carroll


  Jabberwocky and Other Nonsense

  Collected Poems

  Edited with an Introduction and

  Notes by





  Further Reading

  Note on the Texts


  Poems from Family Magazines

  Useful and Instructive Poetry (1845)

  The Rectory Magazine (c. 1848)

  The Rectory Umbrella (c. 1850–53)

  Mischmasch (c. 1855–62)

  Other Early Verse

  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865)

  Phantasmagoria and Other Poems (1869)

  Puzzles from Wonderland (1870)

  Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1872)

  Oxford Poems, with some Memoria Technica

  The Hunting of the Snark (1876)

  Poems for Friends, including acrostics, riddles, “charades” and a cipher-poem

  “Sylvie and Bruno” (1889) and “Sylvie and Bruno Concluded” (1893)

  Late Collections

  Rhyme? And Reason? (1883)

  A Tangled Tale (1885)

  Three Sunsets and Other Poems (1898)

  Appendix: Poems Doubtfully Attributed to Lewis Carrol





  LEWIS CARROLL was the pen name of the Revd Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. Born in 1832, he was the third of eleven children. He was educated at Rugby School and Christ Church, Oxford, where he was appointed lecturer in mathematics in 1855, and where he spent the rest of his career. He wrote poetry throughout his life, at the age of thirteen composing a comic collection called Useful and Instructive Poetry, and late in life producing perfect rhymed acrostics in honour of young friends. He published numerous satirical pamphlets on Oxford politics, including Notes by an Oxford Chiel (1874), and works on logic such as Euclid and His Modern Rivals and Symbolic Logic (1896). He also became a pioneering amateur portrait photographer, specialising in Victorian celebrities and children. Though Dodgson never married, children were the main interest of his life. After the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass (1872), both of which were originally written for Alice Liddell, the daughter of the Dean of his college, he became the most famous children’s writer of the day. In addition to his two nonsense classics, he also published several books of nonsense and more serious verse, including Phantasmagoria and Other Poems (1869), The Hunting of the Snark (1876) and Rhyme? And Reason? (1883); numerous books of puzzles and games such as The Game of Logic (1887); and towards the close of his life, a long children’s novel in two parts, Sylvie and Bruno (1889, 1893). He died in 1898.

  GILLIAN BEER is King Edward VII Professor Emeritus of English Literature at the University of Cambridge and past President of Clare Hall College. She is a Fellow of the British Academy and of the Royal Society of Literature. Among her works are Darwin’s Plots (1983; third edition, 2009), George Eliot (1986), Arguing with the Past: Essays in Narrative from Woolf to Sidney (1989), Open Fields: Science in Cultural Encounter (1996) and Virginia Woolf: The Common Ground (1996). She has written introductions to the Penguin editions of Virginia Woolf’s Between the Acts, Jane Austen’s Persuasion, H. G. Wells’s Love and Mr Lewisham and Sigmund Freud’s The ‘Wolfman’ and Other Cases.

  The Mock Turtle and The Gryphon, Lewis Carroll’s drawing in Alice’s Adventures Under Ground


  Lewis Carroll’s imagination is always at play, ricocheting across previous poems, reversing and viewing askance the assumptions embedded in poetic forms and poetic language. He wrote poems for fun and to give pleasure, often to other particular people. Occasionally he wrote more anguished, serious or personal poems and, indeed, many of the poems he composed have a poignant undertone despite their high spirits. A great many of his poems have been lost to view, though those in the Alice books and The Hunting of the Snark remain well known. This, the first collected and annotated edition of his poems, brings into the light a fresh array of often brilliant verses and provides contexts that reveal the full force of his wit and, occasionally, his sadness. He began writing young, as part of a large family, eleven children in all, and he lived for much of his childhood at the parsonage in Daresbury, Cheshire, then after the age of eleven in the Rectory at Croft-on-Tees, Yorkshire. The first years of his life were spent at home in a group of children varying in age and gender, but all dependent on each other for their daily entertainment. He went to school when he was twelve years old, having been tutored by his father until then, and he seems to have enjoyed boarding at the quite free-and-easy Richmond School. Rugby School, where he went at fourteen, was a shock: “I cannot say that I look back upon my life at a Public School with any sensation of pleasure, or that any earthly considerations would induce me to go through my three years again.”1

  Throughout all that time, and beyond, he was Charles Dodgson and nobody else. Lewis Carroll first became part of his life in March 1856, accompanying the poem “Solitude” in the magazine The Train. It was not a well-known name, however, until the publication of Alice in Wonderland in 1865 when he was thirty-three years old. He had been writing poems, and in some cases publishing them, ever since his boyhood. Indeed, some of the poems in the Alice books are based on these earlier verses. For simplicity, and because his pseudonym has overtaken his own name in renown – rather as his parodies did the earlier poems of others – I usually refer to him in this edition as Lewis Carroll, or even Carroll (shortened to “LC” in the Notes). I am nevertheless conscious that this is not an entirely satisfactory solution: there is a specific timbre to the early poems before he had adopted the pen name; his poems sparked by Oxford university controversies were definitely known to be from the pen of the redoubtable Reverend C. L. Dodgson, Student of Christ Church (when they were signed at all); and much later in his life his many occasional poems were written in correspondence that was signed C.L.D. or C. L. Dodgson or Charles L. Dodgson. In the early family collections and in the university magazine College Rhymes he used a variety of initials: V.X., B.B., F.L.W., J.V., F.X., Q.G., K., R.W.G. He signed many of his more serious early poems C.L.D. alongside place and date of composition, and those initials and that information are here included where inscribed at the end of poems. In his later years when the Alice books had given him some celebrity he tried, rather intermittently, to keep Charles Dodgson and Lewis Carroll apart. He would sometimes refuse to answer letters from unknown people addressed to Lewis Carroll, but he used the name when he wanted to give publicity to a cause, such as the anti-vivisection movement. And he disliked people pronouncing his family name as “dodge-son” as much as he disliked people dropping the “g” out of the spelling of the name: “Dodson” is traditionally the family’s preferred pronunciation, avoiding the possibility of dodgy puns, to which his ears were always alert.

  Early Poetry

  During his boyhood Carroll took the lead in the various games and pursuits of the family, in magic lantern and marionette shows, and particularly in the making of family magazines. The first of these, Useful and Instructive Poetry (1845) was written entirely by him and especially for his younger brother and sister, Wilfred and Louisa, when Charles was thirteen and they were seven and five. The poems are uproariously dissident, neither useful nor instructive, and often very funny:

  “Sister, sister, go to bed,

  Go and rest your weary head,”

  Thus the prudent brother said.

  “Do you want a batt
ered hide

  Or scratches to your face applied?”

  Thus the sister calm replied.

  “Sister! Do not rouse my wrath,

  I’d make you into mutton broth

  As easily as kill a moth.”

  The sister raised her beaming eye,

  And looked on him indignantly,

  And sternly answered “Only try!”

  Off to the cook he quickly ran,

  “Dear cook, pray lend a frying pan

  To me, as quickly as you can.”

  “And wherefore should I give it to you?”

  “The reason, cook, is plain to view,

  I wish to make an Irish stew.”

  “What meat is in that stew to go?”

  “My sister’ll be the contents.” “Oh!”

  “Will you lend the pan, Cook?” “NO!”

  Moral: “Never stew your sister.”

  Moralising and moral tags amused him throughout his writing career. Indeed, the poems in Alice in Wonderland delight in reversing the piety of pedagogic verses and Alice is exasperated by the moral tropes of the Duchess: “‘How fond she is of finding morals in things!’ Alice thought to herself.” The high-spirited anarchism of these early verses is already underpinned by considerable technical formal skill, as here in the triple rhyme verses and the easy way dialogue is folded into the lines. They are neat as well as outrageous.

  The second magazine, The Rectory Magazine, includes contributions from several of the Dodgson children under pseudonymous initials. The whole is described on the title-page as “a Compendium of the best tales, poems, essays, pictures &c that the united talents of the Rectory inhabitants can produce, Edited and printed by CLD”, although only his poems are included in this edition. The magazine ran to nine numbers. The next four of these domestic magazines unfortunately are not known to have survived; only their names remain: The Rectory Comet, The Rosebud, The Star and The Will-o’-the-Wisp. So The Rectory Umbrella, the seventh of these family magazines, is the next extant and comes from the period 1850–53. All the contents, as indeed he complains, are by CLD, the rest of the contributors having fallen by the wayside. Perhaps he outshone them or they simply enjoyed his prowess. However, in Mischmasch, covering 1855–62, the eighth and last of the magazines, two contributions from other members of the family are present: “The Mermaids” by Louisa and “Blood” by Wilfred. “The Mermaids” is an elegant if rather insipid poem, and “Blood” a rip-roaring and unironic celebration of violence. The volume includes “She’s All My Fancy Painted Him” which appears transmogrified in the courtroom scene of Alice in Wonderland, as well as a “Stanza of Anglo-Saxon Poetry”, with notes, dated 1855, and later to be known as the first stanza of “Jabberwocky” in Through the Looking-Glass more than fifteen years later. These early volumes are decorated with Carroll’s witty and sometimes grotesque pen-and-ink drawings, which often take the poems’ jokes further. He continued to draw for his friends’ amusement alongside poems offered to them although he never ventured to publish the drawings, considering himself too crude and untrained an artist. A few of them are included in this edition to give the flavour of his verve as a draughtsman.

  Mischmasch was put together when Dodgson was already in his twenties, making it clear that he valued these early productions as part of the family’s history and present, quite apart from his relish for the verses. Four of the family were still children when he was already a Student (that is a Fellow) of Christ Church at Oxford, and his mother had died suddenly only two days after he went up to Oxford as an undergraduate in 1851. As the eldest son Charles had a special position in the family and knew that when his father died he would be in some large measure responsible for the well-being of all his siblings who remained unmarried. In the event, only one of his sisters married and she returned to share a house with the rest of the sisters after her husband’s death. One sister did decide to live alone, Henrietta, who set up house in Brighton and Carroll quite frequently visited her there. But six adult sisters lived together in a house in Guildford where Lewis Carroll spent many of the university vacations throughout his life and where he died in 1898. There is a sense in which the shared girlhood or childhood never quite dispersed and Carroll’s strong identification with his sisters continued. That identification is an element in his unusual enjoyment of the company of children, particularly girls, whom he entertained with many of the same delights that he had shared in his own childhood: verbal games and zany poems, paper-cutting, the dressing-up box and the marionette theatre. Two of his three younger brothers did marry and have children, while the youngest of the family, Edwin, became a missionary on Tristan da Cunha. The female household in Guildford alternated with the male college community of Christ Church to give Carroll throughout adulthood, constant company and also some solitude. They also gave him two very different readerships for his occasional verses.

  Professional Life and Poetry

  Charles Dodgson was throughout his adult years a mathematics don at Christ Church, Oxford, specializing in logic. He wrote extensively about mathematical ideas and problems, always following Euclidean orthodoxy. He was not regarded as a particularly innovative mathematician, though he was friends with a number of important innovators such as J. J. Sylvester and Augustus De Morgan. However, his work on proportional representation, “Principles of Parliamentary Representation”, has proved to be of very considerable importance for twentieth-century attempts to produce fairer voting systems.2 He taught undergraduates, who were at first all men, as well as later giving voluntary lectures in logic at two women’s colleges, Lady Margaret Hall and what was then St Hugh’s Hall (now St Hugh’s College), and at the Oxford High School for Girls. He supported higher education for women but he thought that they would thrive better in a university of their own.

  Dodgson was also a cleric, though not in full orders. His position at Christ Church indeed depended on his being a bachelor and a clergyman. He read very widely in works of theology and was affected by the ideas of Christian Socialism, though he was in some ways socially conservative. He experienced his faith personally. The poem, “After Three Days”, subtitled “Written after seeing Holman Hunt’s picture of ‘Christ in the Temple’ ”, written in 1861, recounts a dream in which he is among those in the temple when the twelve-year-old Jesus joins in debate with the elders. It reaches a climax of intensity as he imagines gazing into the face of the young Christ:

  Look into those deep eyes,

  Stirred to unrest by breath of coming strife,

  Until a longing in thy soul arise

  That this indeed were life:

  That thou couldst find Him there,

  Bend at His sacred feet thy willing knee,

  And from thy heart pour out the passionate prayer,

  “Lord, let me follow Thee!”

  The language of the seventeenth-century poet-priest George Herbert with its heartfelt direct address is here realised, but sequestered within a dream.

  Lewis Carroll’s friendships with members of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, particularly the Rossettis and Holman Hunt, had their effect in both his parodic medieval comic verses and his more troubled poems such as “Stolen Waters”, which imagines a destructive and obsessional love. Its title is drawn from Proverbs: “Stolen waters are sweet and bread eaten in secret is pleasant” (9:17). He also knew John Ruskin, the great social and aesthetic critic and supporter of the Pre-Raphaelites (who discouraged him about his drawing and who himself acted as drawing master to Alice Liddell). Ruskin was for a time resident at Christ Church so that the two men had opportunities for conversation. Ruskin’s name turns up in several of the poems, particularly in “Hiawatha’s Photographing”, where he has been misunderstood by the son of the house who has set about organising himself in curves, imagining that he is following Ruskin’s edict on beauty.

  Curves pervading all his figure,

  Which the eye might follow onward,

  Till they centred in the breast-pin,

  Centred in the golden breast-pin.

  He had learnt it all from Ruskin,

  (Author of The Stones of Venice,

  “Seven Lamps of Architecture,

  Modern Painters,” and some others);

  And perhaps he had not fully

  Understood the author’s meaning;

  But, whatever was the reason,

  All was fruitless, as the picture

  Ended in a total failure.

  Perhaps unexpectedly, “Hiawatha’s Photographing” is the only one of Carroll’s poems that engages fully with his other great enthusiasm: photography. In the later version of the poem (in this volume) in Phantasmagoria, he contrives a brilliantly exact description of the cold collodion method of developing photographs, working within the constraints of Longfellow’s metre which he is mimicking. Henry Longfellow’s epic and much-parodied poem The Song of Hiawatha is written in a metre that is both lulling and engrossing (see Notes). The second of Carroll’s three stanzas about the processing of photographs runs thus:

  Secondly, my Hiawatha

  Made with cunning hand a mixture

  Of the acid Pyro-gallic,

  And of Glacial Acetic,

  And of Alcohol and water:

  This developed all the picture.

  There is much to be written, and much that has been written, about Lewis Carroll’s enthusiasm for photography: it gave him access to a great range of people, such as the Tennysons and Darwin to whom he offered a photograph for inclusion in The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, and it formed a pervasive element in his friendships with young girls. However, for an edition of his verse it scarcely figures as a topic beyond the invention of “Hiawatha”.3 One might argue that the acrostics in which he delighted particularly in his later years have something of the same function as photographs in establishing intimacy and distance at once. Both demand intricate technique and both provoke a particularly strong and yet controlled relationship between subject and practitioner: the photographer looks through a lens at a distance, all attention focused on the one person, who is highly conscious of being that focus; the poet offers poems that have in them beneath the surface a verbal message that speaks directly to that person alone, her name concealed and revealed in the letters of the verses (see “Poems for Friends”). Reciprocity is hidden but essential in both practices. But beyond that, it is not easy to uncover parallels. Carroll was a man who relished a variety of forms for his creativity, including most particularly mathematics; poetry and photography were among the most compelling, yet without a manifest relation between them.